The sensational Owen D’souza murder case that took place in 1989 inside the college campus had shaken the base of campus politics in Mumbai then. This issue has come up in the backdrop of the new law to review the student politics in the city. According to the sources, by passing the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016, the state legislature has paved the way for student union elections in the state, more than 20 years after they were banned following the murder of student leader Owen D’souza on the campus in 1989. The act will also facilitate the appointment of various statutory bodies and filling of key positions at universities in the state, ending a year-long impasse.
According to the article published in the MID-DAY, the recent video of Gurmehar Kaur which went viral on the social media has received extreme reactions from the people and it resulted in bringing the focus back on the campus politics in the city. According to the sources, the student politics getting painted into the different colors with students are opposing the policies of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and with this, the financial hub of India is recollecting the horrifying murder of a student at the Mumbai University Campus.
Meanwhile, the present BJP MLA Parag Alavani, who was then suspected to be involved in the murder of Owen D’Souza said that when the murder of Owen took place he was sitting inside the cabin of the college principal and when heard of the murder he came out. “It was the dark night of October 1989 which led the student election getting banned. I was a student then at the Jitendra Chouhan Law College, which is the legal faculty of Mithibai College in Vile Parle; it was an evening college,” said Alavani from his home in Vile Parle (East). “It was around 7.30 pm; I was talking to the college principal in his cabin. Suddenly, we heard there had been a killing just outside the college.”
According to Alvani, when he came out of the Principal’s cabin he saw the Owen was lying in the pool of blood, he was stabbed several times and his fingers were chopped. “When I came outside the gate, I saw National Students Union of India (NSUI) district president Owen D’Souza stabbed,” said Alavani adding that, “He had 64 stab wounds on his body. His fingers had been chopped off. The brutality of the murder showed the rage of the assaulters.”
Surprisingly the FIR was filed against the Avlanin the police station for the murder of Owen D’souza since he was the secretary of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) “It was a false FIR; it was made out to be a killing because of student politics enmity,” he said. Alavani, who was acquitted in the case in 2002, said there was intense pressure on the police to frame him. “There were Congress ministers at the police station to pressure the cops,” he added.
“All through as a practicing advocate, I knew there was nothing to this case. The judge actually asked me ‘why did you not ask for a discharge?’ But that could have been misconstrued to mean that I had used my influence to get out of the case. My acquittal proved that I was clean. It was an attempt to defame me and the ABVP.” Alavani said adding that “D’Souza had more than 25 criminal cases against him”. “There were so many gangs in Mumbai at that time; he was killed by a rival gang. The city was rife with gang wars, extortion instances, murders and revenge killings, and the campus was a reflection of the society as it was then.”
“D’Souza’s murder was not the reason student elections were banned in the state, though that is a common belief. Even after his murder, elections were held in 1990, 1991 and 1992. They were finally banned because students were exposing Congress’s corruption. The party was uncomfortable with that. “Student elections need to come back. India is a young country, we need young leaders, who need experience; student politics will give them that experience.” On the current campus tumult, with colleges are burning everywhere, Alavani said, “If you go against the country, there will be people who speak for the country too. So-called students like Umer Khalid do PhDs for years on our taxes, and then, raise slogans for Azadi; they use these forums to destabilize the country.”
Meanwhile, D’souza’s sister Lona Rawat told the media that, “it was Owen’s murder, no doubt, which brought a stop to student elections in the state but he had no criminal cases against him. He was actively involved in the NSUI; he had good relations with Rajiv Gandhi, Sunil Dutt, and Murli Deora.” said Rawat adding that she recalled that phone call on October 5, 1989. “The caller said Owen had been killed. I dropped the receiver and rushed with my husband to Cooper Hospital to identify the body. The scene stays with me till today and resonates deeply when I see the news about campuses erupting everywhere; I remember Owen more than ever then. There were some arrests after the murder, but nothing was proved. The witness had moved to the US by then,” she said.
“You ask the people of Jogeshwari (where the family lived) about Owen; don’t ask me, I am his sister, I may be partial. They will all tell you about his sterling qualities and his social work for the community,” she said. She refused to speculate who killed her brother. “It could have been some opposition, it could be internal. Some people envied his rise within the ranks of the party, there could have been an ego problem. I do not know, I can only guess.” Although later Rawat plunged into politics following the death of Owen. “My family tried to dissuade me,” said Rawat, who first joined the Congress. “Now, I am with the Shiv Sena. Even though Owen died, I think student elections must make a return. It is an incubator and the first step towards a full-fledged political career,” she added, pain and wistfulness evident in her voice. Both Alavani and Rawat may differ on several counts, but they believe that student elections must be revived, despite D’Souza’s murder continues to throw a shadow over the student movement, nearly three decades later.
According to the sources, the much-awaited Maharashtra University Act, 2015, has been implemented, with effect from March 1, 2017. The implementation of the new Act will bring back student elections on campuses of universities across Maharashtra, which were banned over two decades ago. Also, regular varsity bodies will be formed, with notices of the election of members of the Senate, Board of Studies, Management and academic council among others.
The sources have said that the implementation of the new act will bring the major relief to the students of various Universities and colleges. “This has come as a major relief to universities across the state that had been running on ad-hoc bodies. They will now get regular bodies to take policy decisions. The new Act will also revive student elections on campuses of universities across Maharashtra, which were banned over a decade ago,” said the sources. “Now, regular varsity bodies will be formed with further notices of the election of members of those committees, namely Senate, Board of Studies, Management and academic council among others. However, for student elections, there would have to be separate guidelines by the state government on when to begin, even though, as per the Act, they should ideally commence from the new academic year,” said a senior official of Mumbai university.